Thursday, August 18, 2011

Ministry in Joplin

On May 6, 2011 the most devastating tornado to ever touch down hit the town of Joplin Missouri. Tornados were previously rated from F-1, being the least to F-5, being the most sever. This storm created a new category, with wind speeds reaching up to three hundred miles per hour the National Weather Service called it an F-6, the first time this had ever been done. The tornado even had an eye, like a hurricane does; this also had never been seen.

Larry Russell came to our church at the end of June to talk to our congregation about this terrible storm and to solicit money and help. He asked for skilled craftsmen to go there and help in the recovery effort. The only skill he mentioned was a plumbing.

When he was through talking I looked up and said to myself, “Okay, Lord, I understand." After the service was over I went up to Larry and said “You need a plumber, I’m your man.”

Thus started my mission to do whatever I could to help Joplin and its people to recover from the devastation. I was in for the shock of my life. I don’t watch the news very often and never saw any footage of the devastation, so I had no idea of the magnitude of destruction I was to witness. Devastation would come to be a word I would use often.

We got to Joplin about 7 p.m. and started our tour of the town, and I started crying. Devastation is too mild a word, utter and total devastation is closer to the truth. As we passed by piles of remains of buildings, Lewis, our contact in Joplin, would tell story after story of how people miraculously survived with their homes intact while their neighbors’ home and lives were completely gone.

The pictures that you have seen and the stories you have heard on the news don’t convey the story as it truly is. Nothing I can tell you will do the city justice, you really need to see it yourself. The closest I can come is to imagine what Hiroshima looked like after the atom bomb. Some of you might think I’m exaggerating, believe me, I’m not.

Lewis told stories of neighbors helping each other and surviving only by the grace of our Lord.

A mother held on to a tree with one hand while holding on to her four year old son with the other. Finally, the wind was too strong and she lost her grip on his hand. He was swept up in the storm and whisked away. She was sure that she had lost him; not so though. He was carried five miles away by the powerful winds and deposited in a Home Depot parking lot without a scratch. When he was returned to his mother she asked him what had happened, he replied that the butterfly people had carried him there.

Another man and his two children huddled in their bath tub and pulled a mattress over themselves. The son was the only one face up. The mattress was pulled away by the winds. When the storm passed the man exclaimed. How did we not get hurt? His young son said that the man with wings wrapped them around us.

Two churches were totally destroyed; they had crosses placed in front of them, the crosses remained untouched.

I could go on, but I need to tell the rest of the story, some people looked at the devastation in disgust and took whatever they had and moved elsewhere.

But there were the faithful who said this is our home, we will rebuild it. Ian Martinez, Rick Hicks (the other workers that I went with) and I went to a worship meeting every night and each night we were acknowledged for the good work we were doing.

People came up to us all the time and shook our hand and hugged us, thanking us for having traveled so far to do what we were doing. We, of course, said we were only doing the Lord’s work as we were directed. We were often asked to speak at these meetings.

One night I said, you give us praise for doing the Lords’ work, but I have to say that you people that live here are the ones who deserve a pat on the back. It’s been two months since the storm; still you get up each morning and get to the task of rebuilding. This looks like it will never end, but I have seen the smiles on your faces and your dogged determination. We are here for just one week, you will still be here for years cleaning and rebuilding, you are the salt of the earth. I know that you will rebuild Joplin into a bigger and better town than it was before the storm, you will not quit.

After I sat down a lady came up to me and asked me to pray for her. She said that she had been thinking about moving out of the area, and that my words had hit a chord in her heart. I asked her if she had lost her home. She replied; my home, my husband

and my dog. She had no family left in the area. I asked her if she truly believed in God. She said yes. I said, look around you, you are surrounded by family. She began to cry and I gave her a hug and began to pray that she would understand that we are all related, we all have the same thing in common. She wiped the tears from her face, looked around and said, “You’re right, we are all struggling, and we all lost something or someone.”

Sometimes the simplest things can make a large difference. The next time I saw her she thanked me and told me that I had convinced her to stay, and that she would not be alone while she had friends and the Lord to comfort her. I thanked the Lord for giving me those words of comfort.

On Sunday, we of course didn’t work. We went to two services and also went to a river and watched as twelve people were baptized. It was heartwarming to see so many people come to the Lord at the same time. It’s also tragic that it took this storm for them to come to the Lord. Pastor Jim said it had been like this ever since the storm.

Our mission in Joplin was to build a kitchen and a shower room for other relief workers that would arrive in the weeks to come. There were no blue prints, Pastor Jim just told us what and where he wanted things to be placed. Since I had the most knowledge about building, I was given the unenviable task of foreman. Without plans we built on the fly, we would discuss what needed to be done as we approached the task.

We left Joplin at eight o’clock the twentieth of July. We were able to finish our task at two o’clock that day. It’s truly amazing how God gave us just enough time and money to complete our task. We worked eighty-four hours in six days, and on the last day we only had six hours to finish, the other five days were very long.

Six months ago I was walking with a cane and was in such poor shape that I thought I would have to mostly direct someone to do the plumbing. It was over one-hundred degrees with humidity over eighty percent every day, but again the Lord gave me the strength to do my own work. I was truly spent when we finished. Three days back and I am still tired. How I was able to work as hard as I did only the Lord knows. Rick told me a couple of times to slow down or I would have a heart attack. Still I pushed on knowing that we had limited time to finish.

It’s easy to quit or give up, the people of Joplin could easily do this, however they have chosen to stay the course, which is hard considering what they have been through. Their faith in Christ is strong however, and with the temptation to quit around them every day their faith remains very strong.

God bless the people of Joplin. My only regret is that I’m not still there to help more. While the destruction was hard to witness, I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to make this trip, and finish the project as assigned. It was one of the most fulfilling things I have ever experienced. We did what we did for the love of the people of Joplin.

--Ernie Jones

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